My Son, John Terry and That Word.

Last weekend my son experienced an episode of what he refers to as ’Red Brain’ and called his father a c**t.  He called him a w****r as well, but it was c**t which propelled us to the apex of offensive language and which left Rob feeling, well, rather mentally beaten about.  Once Red Brain had died down, Jamie was mortified that he had directed this language at his dad.  But the words had been said: the toothpaste was out of the tube.

During Jamie’s next therapy session a few days later, the esteemed Mr R, Social Worker and specialist in all things child trauma-related, enquired about how the previous week had been.

‘Jamie’s Red Brain came out shouting and screaming and he called his dad some bad things.’

‘Is that right Jamie?  What did you call your dad?’

The hood went up and all he could manage was ‘dunno’.

‘So Sally, could you tell me what Jamie called his dad?’

I am no prude and am fond of a good swear now and again but to use the ‘c’ and the ‘w’ words in polite company is well out of my league.

‘Go on, say them,’ said Mr R.

‘Well, he called Rob a w****r and a c**t.’

I folded my arms and blushed.  Jamie looked at me from beneath his hood.  It was a look of disbelief.

‘Oh I see, so Jamie, you called your dad a c**t and a w****r?  That’s big stuff.  It doesn’t get much worse than that does it?’


‘My guess is it’s difficult to hear those words and they make you giggle a bit don’t they?  Shall we hear then again?  C**t.  W****r.’

More laughter. My spirit momentarily left my body, as it does when life becomes too bizarre and it suspects the involvement of mind-altering drugs.  It floated around just under the ceiling and spoke to me.    Yes, there really is a social worker in your sitting room saying ‘c**t’ and ‘w****r’ over and over.  Your son is laughing as though it’s all a big joke.  Your life has jumped off the tracks.

We then moved on to the crux of the matter.

‘So how much further do you need to go before mum and dad give up on you?’

I winced at the directness.  Jamie rolled himself into a ball.

‘Sally, I’ll ask you.  How much further will Jamie have to go before you give up and put him into care?’

‘I’m not going to give up.  It’s bad news for Red Brain, but Rob and I are very determined people and Jamie part of our family for good.’

‘Did you hear that Jamie?  Mum says she’s not going to give up on you?’


‘We’ve got to deal with Red Brain haven’t we and it’s a team effort.  We have to help you learn to deal with your anger, because you’re going to grow up and have relationships and maybe have children and you don’t want Red Brain to be around for that.  I’ve worked with lots and lots of children like you.  You’re not on your own.  And I can tell you that things will get easier.  You’re a clever boy.  You’ll be able to work out this difficult stuff, with help from your mum and dad and me.’


After the session Jamie and I went to collect Rose his sister, from school.  He talked all the way, about children he knows who are living for one reason and another without their parents.  He talked about how sorry he was that he called his dad such terrible things.  He said over and over how much he loves us all.

The past few days have been the calmest the Donovan household has experienced for months.  As advised by Mr R I have checked in with Jamie regularly, so he gets the message that calm behaviour doesn’t mean he is out of mind.  During a quiet hour I decided to take some time for myself.  I brewed a pot of tea, sank into the sofa, put my feet up, opened the Saturday newspaper and there, in all its fully spelled glory was ‘c**t’.  I marvelled at the offensive verbal synchronicity going on.  I hvae experienced times when the same word crops up in lots of different situations, over several days, as though the great up above is trying to tell me something.  I remember ‘toothbrush’ one time and ’sandwich’.  But ‘c**t’?

The coverage of the John Terry trial showed the nation that it is apparently quite the most usual thing for footballers to call each other this in the heat of the moment on a Saturday afternoon.  Where Terry came unstuck was in allegedly calling Anton Ferdinand a ‘black c**t’, thus bringing about a charge of racial abuse.  Terry’s defence that he was merely repeating back and questioning words first uttered by Ferdinand was a clever one and yet to my mind had the whiff of a school boy excuse about it.  It introduced just enough doubt and the judge found Terry not guilty.  It is not clear where the verdict leaves football and it’s efforts to clean up the game and tackle racism.

Right and wrong are a little less muddied in our house.  Jamie is learning that his past may be a reason for his red brain behaviour, but it is not an excuse.  There are consequences for using that word which don’t include being put back into care.  At least he didn’t try and excuse himself with ‘but John Terry …..’.

5 thoughts on “My Son, John Terry and That Word.

  1. Margaret

    Jamie’s discomfort at hearing you and Mr R use the same words that he’d used reminded me of a boy I taught years ago. He wasn’t like Jamie; he came from a chaotic family, his dad was in prison, and his vocabulary was very limited. Just about the only thing he was good at was running. He won lots of prizes on sports days, and one wag suggested that he’d had plenty of practice running away from his mum and the police.

    His behaviour in art lessons, like most other lessons, was a distraction. He was all over the place. One thing that he was consistent about was his use of the words fuck and fucking. Every other word, more or less, was one of the two. One day, in exasperation, I challenged him about it, using the same language, every other word. He visibly reddened, his mouth open and shut for a minute or two, and then he cried, “Miss! You shouldn’t say that!” “OK,” I said, “I admit it gets boring the way you do it. Why not try some different words? What about ‘shit’ or ‘crap’? That would make a change.” He was even more flabbergasted, but after a few minutes he admitted that it wasn’t appropriate to talk that way in the classroom, to me, and agreed to try to mind his language. He did try, but it wasn’t easy.

    In his case, there was no “Red Brain”, just laziness and a paucity of language skills, but when he heard someone he didn’t expect to hear using those forbidden words, it brought him up short. I imagine that it had the same effect on Jamie. At least you can talk about things like that. My young man struggled to find the words for any sort of meaningful conversation.

    1. admin Post author

      It is interesting that often children will be shocked to hear an adult say a word, which they use quite readily. I suppose it upsets the order of things and at some level these children need to know there is an order or sorts. To take the heat out of a word is useful too. If a child uses a word and the adults around them get cross or take some other action, then that child has some control over those adults (‘look what I can make them do’).
      Thanks for your comment (I bet you were a great teacher).

  2. Andrew

    Superb post, and tackling some key issues head on once again. It sounds strange, but I have long since given up on football because of the behaviour of fans and players alike, but I cant imagine myself giving up on my own child. I haven’t got one yet, but I am pretty confident about my own resilience. Perhaps I should give football another chance as well. Thanks again, great post.


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